There's a Healthy Need for Nurses

Nursing is already the largest health-care occupation. Yet all indications are that nursing will continue to grow at a rapid pace. There are lots of openings for those with the right skills.

"This is a very good time for people to enter the nursing profession because there's a tremendous need across the country," says Doris Grinspun. She's executive director of a registered nurses' association.

Currently, registered nurses (RNs) make up the largest portion of health-care jobs in the U.S.

"The shortage is serious," says Cheryl Peterson. She's the director of nursing practice and policy for the American Nurses Association in Silver Spring, Maryland.

"The demographics of our country aging is a lot of what's driving the demand for nursing services," says Peterson. "So we need to have sufficient numbers of nurses to be able to care for the baby boomer generation as it ages, and hopefully ages gracefully."

Not enough students are enrolling in nursing school to meet the demand for RNs. That's according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Also, nursing schools are having to restrict enrollment because they don't have enough qualified nursing teachers to teach classes.

"We are definitely facing a nursing shortage and that's partly attributable to an insufficient number of qualified faculty," says Laurie Quarles. She works with the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington, D.C.

"There are huge waiting lists for students who are otherwise qualified but can't get into the nursing programs because there aren't enough spaces."

In the U.S., more than half of the new nurses each year are graduates of community colleges. There they earn a two-year associate's degree in nursing (ADN).

The total number of vacant nursing staff positions in nursing facilities could grow to 142,000 full-time positions by 2020. That's according to the American Health Care Association.

"There is a real demand for nurses in every part of the country and in every venue that you can think of," says Quarles.

Nursing is an attractive field for many students because of the wide range of opportunities. Nurses have a choice of various work settings, specialty areas and many continuing education programs.

Some people claim that tough work environments and difficult schedules push nurses out of the profession. Nursing is certainly a demanding profession, but not all work settings are the same.

"We have a home for all types of temperaments," says Peterson. "Some of the work environments are very demanding, and... a nurse may or may not pick one of those more demanding work environments."

Nurses may work in hospitals, physicians' offices, nursing homes, private homes, schools, retirement communities and other settings. Within a hospital alone, nurses can work in the following areas:

  • emergency
  • intensive care
  • operating room
  • post-surgery
  • maternity
  • cardiovascular (heart)
  • oncology (cancer)
  • psychiatry
  • pediatrics (children)
  • palliative (people who are dying)
  • geriatrics (seniors)

"It takes a really tenacious, self-directed, self-contained individual in some ways to go through some of the situations someone might have to endure if they're working in a hospital," Peterson adds.

"We gravitate toward that which suits our personality. There are some personality types who are really exceptional in certain types of high-stress environments like an emergency room."

"Registered nurses are professionals who have their toolkits in their head," says Grinspun. "So if you're a new graduate and don't have your own family, then you can pack your toolkit and move, because the shortage is global."

Nursing has long been considered a female profession (and the majority of workers in this field are women). However, many male students are entering the field.

Although you need only a two-year associate's degree to be an RN in the U.S., getting a bachelor's degree will give you more options.

Registered nurses currently have many options if they choose to specialize after a bachelor's degree. They may advance to clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife or certified registered nurse anesthetist.

These positions require one or two years of graduate education, usually leading to a master's degree or a certificate.

"From an academic preparation standpoint, a fairly strong knowledge base in math and science are really critical," says Peterson.

Peterson says those who do well in nursing have communication skills and an interest in helping to manage complex issues and problems. "You really have to be engaged in problem solving, working with a team, communicating the resolution and the problem well," she says.

"Nursing requires a tremendous amount of cognitive, intelligent effort," says Grinspun. "RNs make very difficult and fast decisions based on their knowledge and expertise.

"[A nurse] needs to be a person that is able to be empathic and be attentive to the needs of other people," she adds. "It needs to be an individual that is committed beyond belief because it's a very rewarding profession, but at the same time very demanding."

With its wide range of choices in employment settings and large number of specialties, the field of nursing can be an attractive career path for many.


American Nurses Association
Links and contacts for the American nursing scene

American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Educational programs and articles

National League for Nursing
News about nursing education

Nursing Skills Checklist
Checklists for various nursing specialties

Nursing Schools 411
An A-Z guide on exploring nursing as a career.

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